Need to Know

I spent 20 years working as a distance learning tutor for MBA students, helping them to get the best out of the programme by reviewing their assignments and so forth.

There were two key concepts that most students, of all ages and experience and from many countries, had difficulty grasping.

Most were used to the idea of ‘exams’ where they were expected to reiterate the knowledge that they had been taught, at school or university, and perhaps apply a little extra insight from reading and research outside the curriculum.

What they didn’t ‘get’ was that the ‘masters’ level of degree education isn’t about knowing stuff.

It’s about applying that knowledge, and experience, to situations and ‘problems’.

At that level, it’s ‘taken as read’ that students already know the majority of what they need to know and even where new information is supplied it’s still all about applying it and not just ‘knowing’ it.

The other thing was that I received a large number of assignments where the student hadn’t actually answered the question but talked around or re-described the situation; probably a sub-set of not realizing that they were actually supposed to provide a solution, or alternative solutions to the question set.

Yes, education should be about learning, either through teaching the knowledge or giving students the resources to discover it for themselves.

But somehow, until people get to the ‘higher degree’ level, school and university doesn’t really tell them much about the ‘how’ of things – how to put all that precious knowledge into action, how to make it useful, how to use it to develop and improve their lives.

(As an aside, I eventually gave this work up because it became more about checking how much was the students’ ‘own work’ and how much had been copied from the internet!)

Now you and I have a ton of knowledge, we know lots of stuff, but how much do we use?

I can’t say that I’ve found much use for that O Level in Latin and much of the Science I was taught is now out of date as new discoveries have been made – but somewhere in my brain it’s still all there!

Knowledge for its own sake, when you and I just ‘store’ it is, like money, of very little use. It only becomes valuable when we apply it to something.

So to what do you and I apply that vast store of knowledge that we possess?

First, we are often presented with situations or problems that require the application of what we already know but you and I are also confronted with issues to which we don’t know the solution, or the actions we need to take.

Many people faced with this situation will get depressed or anxious thus escalating the ‘problem’ to a level at which it may overwhelm them, but you and I will take one of two routes.

We either seek out the knowledge we need to solve the problem ourselves, or we find someone else who does have the knowledge and skills we need to resolve the situation.

If you and I don’t have the tools (knowledge) we need we find someone who has.

We may get them to do what needs to be done, or share their knowledge and show us how to do it – problem solved.

Secondly, you and I are on a continuous path of personal development and growth towards the lives we would love to live, towards who we really want to be, and this requires us to continually increase our knowledge pool through continual learning.

We seek out what we need to know to develop ourselves and then apply this knowledge internally, and externally in our relationships with others, to grow towards that vision.

The thing is that, although we can’t delete the knowledge that we have even if we don’t need it, we do need to know what we need to know to achieve our goals and vision.

So don’t stop learning, don’t stop discovering new stuff, but do make sure that it’s stuff that you do need to know!